Over the last few months, a member of my family has experienced the typical symptoms of the first trimester of pregnancy. If you have never witnessed this, it basically involves a lot of vomiting, dry heaving, smell and food aversions, an upset stomach and the general feeling of illness. Fun.
If you happen to the be the person primarily in charge of cooking in your household when something like this comes along (or perhaps it’s another gastrointestinal illness), you’re in for a shock. Quite suddenly, foods that this particular lady in your life found delicious and irresistible just weeks ago will end up being left on the plate, left off the menu, or at worst–flushed down the toilet. What’s an aspiring chef to do but cry?
Thankfully, I’ve gone through the experience twice now, and will offer you some tips to shorten your learning curve and help you regain control of the kitchen. They are:
Ginger is the wonder-drug of upset stomachs, and can be tolerated by most people, depending on the form of delivery. Some stores sell natural ginger-ale (it must use actual ginger) as a drink. Others, such as Trader Joe’s, offer ginger-infused cookie-snacks with over-the-top amounts of ginger.
Another simple way to add ginger is using the dried spice form, which is typically a fine powder that can be added to almost any dish. For particularly bad days, I can sprinkle this in some chicken broth, add noodles and call it a stomach-settling soup.
Of course, no form is as pure as the real stuff, which is readily available from most grocery stores. Be forewarned: real ginger is very potent, and many cooks recommend wearing gloves to handle the peeling and break-down process. The two methods I use are either a simple, fine-toothed cheese grater or a food processor. No one wants ginger chunks in their food.
Lay off the spices.
Avoid any kind of hot spices, and even mild spices when the aversion to smells or tastes is particularly strong. Salt and pepper can be a blessing (making otherwise bland food taste okay), or a curse (too much salt can cause further problems), so judge situationally and based on past experience.
Eat small, simple, and often.
Munching on saltine crackers, ginger cookies or some other simple and low-calorie snack throughout the day can have a calming effect on the stomach and fight off feelings of nausea for many pregnant women.
Cook the basics.
Avoid a lot of show & flare when it comes time to just getting nutrients into your loved one’s stomach. My favorite go-to meal for any kind of sickness is soup, and it can be one of almost any variety, though I specifically avoid anything containing milk products. Whether it’s the classic chicken noodle soup, or a barley and potato soup, or perhaps something creamy like butternut squash, it’s hard to go wrong.
If cooking meats, stick to salt and pepper (if at all) and choose cooking methods like grilling, baking, or broiling that don’t add oil and other scents to the dish.
Prepare vegetables by boiling or steaming, or present them raw. Over-cooking vegetables can turn them into a mess that feels like mush on the palate and has encouraged more nausea in my experience.
Experiment & stay flexible.
Unfortunately, your first attempts may not be successful, and especially in the case of pregnancy, the likes and dislikes of the stomach can change over time. At least initially, the best idea is to offer a wide variety of foods where something…anything, is bound to be edible.
Beyond that, just stay flexible and remember that this temporary state of being is not a vote of impeachment on your food.